BEIJING (AFP) - The head of China Telecom, one of the nation’s big three telecoms firms, is under investigation for “severe disciplinary violations”, the government said Sunday, the latest high-profile target in a corruption crackdown.
News of the probe into Chang Xiaobing, 58, was given in a statement on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the watchdog of the ruling Communist Party.
The term is normally a euphemism for graft.
Chang had been “taken away”, according to an article in the respected business magazine Caijing, which added that he disappeared just days before a meeting of the state-owned company planned for December 28.
A memo saying the meeting would be postponed was issued on the evening of the 26th, the article said. Chang’s phone was switched off and he had not responded to multiple calls, it added.
In August, after 11 years as chairman and party secretary of China’s second largest telecoms provider China Unicom, Beijing announced Chang would head China Telecom. That decision, Caijing said, was made despite widespread rumours that the executive was under investigation.
It sparked speculation about an imminent tie-up between the two industry leaders and the third major player, China Mobile.
In April the state news agency Xinhua reported that China was considering merging scores of its biggest state-owned companies to create around 40 national champions from the existing 111.
Authorities have been pursuing a hard-hitting campaign against allegedly crooked officials since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, a crusade that some experts have called a political purge.
Several high-profile business leaders have been caught up in the web of graft investigations after authorities pledged they would turn their efforts to the state-owned enterprise system, a bulwark of graft that has resisted multiple attempts at reform.
The campaign is seen as an attempt to force executives of state firms, who jealously guard their prerogatives, to toe the party line, reducing resistance to structural reforms intended to bolster the slowing economy. Beijing announced it had begun investigations into the country’s telecom industry earlier this year, while Chang was still at China Unicom.
After conducting an internal graft investigation, the Communist Party can punish alleged offenders internally or expel them and pass them on to courts for trial, where conviction is virtually guaranteed.
The government is also investigating other state-controlled sectors, notably energy. The country’s oil companies long served as a power base for Zhou Yongkang, the highest ranking official to be convicted of corruption during the current campaign.
Most recently the party’s inquisitors have cast their eyes over the financial sector, detaining several high-level executives after a stock market rout this summer.
This is not the first wave of investigations to hit the telecoms industry.
The country also probed the top three telecoms operators in 2010 and 2011, forcing mid-level executives and above to surrender their passports.